Thinking Iran — It's the Regime, Not the Nukes
My friend Michael Ledeen is right, of course, that the "October Surprise" trial balloon floated by the Times over the weekend -- the suggestion of a "grand deal" between Obama and the mullahs over Iran's nuclear program -- is much ado about nothing new.
What would be new is to try the only approach to Iran that has ever made any sense -- the one no American administration, of either party, has tried. Very simply: the Iranian regime is our enemy; we want the mullahs gone, by whatever means gets the job done within the constraints of political reality.
As I have maintained for a very long time, the obsession over Iran's nukes is a grave mistake. It implies that if we could come to some understanding about the mullahs' nuclear ambitions, the groundwork would be laid for stable relations. This is delusional. Exportation of their Islamist revolution, hatred of America and, within that sweep, the destruction of Israel have been the operating premises of Khomeinist Iran since 1979. The facilitation of terrorism -- a barbaric way to pursue national interests -- has been the regime's principal means of operation. The mullahs have killed or aided and abetted in the killing of thousands of Americans, and every day they try to kill more. The regime is an incorrigible enemy of the United States. There should be nothing they can do at this point, after over 30 years of this, to convince us otherwise.
The potential that Iran could get nuclear weapons adds urgency to the problem, but it is not the problem per se. The Pakistanis have nukes -- we're not thrilled about that, but it does not keep us up at night. The problem posed by Iran is the regime, not the nukes.
Our policy in Iran should be regime change, period. That is, we are never going to be satisfied with any result in Iran except the eradication of the regime, and we are going to use every single lever of American power, hard and soft, to achieve that result -- in a manner that promotes the stability of a post-regime Iran and respects political reality in the U.S. By promoting stability in Iran, I mean that we would like to see Iranians overthrow their deeply unpopular government, we should make no secret about assisting that effort, we would prefer not to invade Iran militarily, but we make no commitments that we will not invade -- we are going to stop our long policy of doing nothing when Iran kills Americans and takes other hostile steps. By respecting political reality in the U.S., I mean that there is a dearth of popular support at this time for war against Iran -- the political case for it has not been made; and it makes neither strategic nor financial sense to move our forces into Iran and repeat the democracy project. (I'm not nearly as convinced as many of my friends are that the Iranian people are pro-American -- there are lots of Leftists and non-regime Islamists in Iran. But I am convinced that a post-mullah regime would not make hostility to the U.S. its animating premise. That would make it a drastic improvement -- for us and for global stability.)
The point is to say, openly and notoriously: They are our enemy and there is nothing they could do to change our minds about that. If they give us reasons to attack militarily, we will. Meantime, we are doing everything in our power -- diplomatically, economically, legally, and by intelligence ops -- to squeeze and undermine the regime while empowering Iranians who oppose the regime. And we want other countries in the world to know that the United States wants the Iranian regime gone: We will consider friendliness toward Iran to be unfriendliness toward the United States, and deal with it accordingly.
When we make our policy around Iranian nukes, we are on the defensive -- and it is as if we are overlooking their unbroken 30-year history as a state sponsor of anti-American terrorism. If we make regime change our policy, to be pursued by every conceivable means with no assurances to Iran that any form of military, diplomatic or economic action is off the table, then we are on offense, and the regime's enemies know they have a very powerful ally in their corner.